Sectionalism and the Representation Debate, 1787-1792


From 1787 until 1792 the issue of the apportionment of representatives in the House of Representatives was the focus of spirited debate in American politics. The central issue at stake was the size and influence of each of the sections in future Congresses. The representation issue was first debated during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. After a temporary settlement of the representation guestion in the Convention, the First Congress re-opened the apportionment debate. The result was a constitutional amendment that would have significantly increased the size of the House of Representatives. After that amendment failed to pass the states, the Second Congress finally passed in 1792 an apportionment bill that increased the House in size in time for the convening of the Third Congress in March 1793. No historian that I know of has addressed the representation debate after the Constitutional Convention. Therefore, the details of the debate over the apportionment amendment remained unexamined. Additionally, the contest in the Second House to increase the size of the House has been virtually ignored. This paper therefore addresses the representation debate from 1787 to 1792. Starting with the Constitutional Convention of 1787, I have traced the representation question through the First Congress and the failed apportionment amendment to the debate\u27s conclusion in the Second Congress. Both primary and secondary sources were used in the research of this paper. Additionally, legislative roll call analysis was used to determine the degree of sectionalism surrounding the representation debate in the Second Congress. The conclusion of my research is that North-South sectionalism played a significant role in the apportionment debate. The question of slavery\u27s place in the apportionment of representatives was central to the debate in the Constitutional Convention. Although the slavery question was settled by the three-fifths compromise, the North and the South, after the Convention, divided along sectional lines on the question of how large of an increase in the size of the House of Representatives was necessary. By the Second Congress the South had split with the North on that issue. But within the North, two distinct voting blocs emerged. The New England and the Mid-Atlantic states fractured over the details of limiting the increase in the number of representatives in the House. Thus, by 1792, a distinct North-South sectionalism over the size and make-up of the House of Representatives was present in American politics

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